Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project
By Gretchen Rubin
Published by Harper Collins Books

I became interested in reading Rubin's book in the dentist office. I was waiting for my son's appointment and picked up a magazine that contained a short article about this book. What intrigued me was this woman had spent an entire year trying to live more happily. Two things that stood out for me was that she resolved to stop nagging her husband and to clean our her closets.

I suppose as interests go, those are very obscure but I got a copy of the book and really got into it! Rubin's whole book is based upon a year in which she resolved to find ways to be more happy. She was already a published author but this is quite different from her other books. The book is very personal and you really get to know Gretchen -- both the good and bad things about her -- which leads to reviewers like myself wanting to call her by her first name rather than her last.

The things that most intrigued me were the similarities between Gretchen and myself as well as a peek into the life of someone who lives in New York City. Beyond being redheads, Gretchen and I seem to have similar personality quirks like easily getting angry as well hating shopping. I also have this image of living in New York only for those who are celebrities or into high crime but what I found after reading The Happiness Project is that regular people live there as well.

The book is divided into twelve chapters, one for each month. Gretchen is very organized with a Resolutions chart and an attempt to conquer twelve overarching ideas that seem to lead to happiness. I have to admit I found her chart, which she credits as the one thing that made her the most happy, as completely overwhelming. After reading Gretchen's book I gained the insight that being so organized is not me and that realization is perfectly okay! It is good to be me -- that can make me happy.

I don't want to spoil too much from the book but I will give you a brief glimpse from what I learned.
 The top ten things I have learned from The Happiness Project:

1. Get more sleep. This means going to bed and making sure I get at least 7 1/2 hours of sleep.
2. Let it go. This applies to lots of things but especially anger, discontent, frustration, and getting my own way.
3. Clean out my closets. This is always very cathartic for me as it is for Gretchen.
4. Own just a few outfits. Gretchen proves that less is more in that we tend to wear the same things, no matter how much is hanging in the closet. Humans cannot deal with too many choices.
5. Be myself. This is a no-brainer yet I still try if not to be like others at least to compare myself to others. Thoughts like: "I should do that!" or "I ought to spend more time with that" are common in my head.
6. Appreciate the time with my child now. They are only this age once!
7. Just wanting to be happier is key to being happy. Most of us don't think about it because we are spending so much time wallowing in our unhappiness.
8. Acting happy can improve your mood. I should smile more, especially when shopping. This is probably why I am rarely waited on in stores; I tend to frown.
9. Stop nagging/criticizing. Spouse, children, parents, co-workers - everyone can fall into this category!
10. True happiness is giving away something - money, time, effort, service - to benefit others.

My biggest complaint was that Gretchen began including comments offered to her through her blog which she started while writing the book. The good news is that they can easily be skipped while you read. I still wish she had just picked the most significant of them to share.  I suppose she wanted the reader to realize that they, too, could begin their own happiness projects. In fact, this has become a bit of a movement and if you want to know more, go here.

In terms of faith, this is not a book about faith per se, although Gretchen does include a chapter on Eternity/Contemplating the Heavens. I did find myself wondering where true happiness comes from. Certainly there is the human feeling of being happy and the spiritual grounding of having true joy. Both are admirable to search for but only spiritual joy can last. I suppose happiness is the human feeling that we can, in many ways, control. This is what this book is all about. Spiritual joy is supernatural. We can search for it, read about it, and even contemplate it but we cannot "get it" for ourselves. It is God who gives it to us.

I found myself wondering if Gretchen herself is not searching for that kind of joy. She shares that she came from a fairly non-church background and that her husband is Jewish. Her family shares some secular celebrations from both traditions (also seems to be helpful with the in-laws as there is little holiday competition) but there is no attempt, even during this year to go to church or meet with a rabbi. It is very telling that Gretchen's own spiritual model is Saint Therese of Lisieux, an obscure Catholic nun from the Nineteenth Century who died at the age of 24. Perhaps Gretchen is still searching for joy rather than happiness. May she continue her search and may her joy be made complete!

I highly recommend The Happiness Project.

Happy Reading!


Copyright 2011 Amelia G. Sims

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this book too. It made me think about a lot. Now I need to act!